The No. 4 Pitt volleyball team hosted High Point, No. 12 BYU and Bowling Green at the Fitzgerald Field House over the last two days for the Panther Challenge, and the Panthers made quick work of their guests, taking just 10 sets to beat all three opponents.
Pitt kicked off the Panther Challenge with a 3-0 sweep of High Point on Friday morning. It was the team’s first sweep since Aug. 28 and just its second of the 2021 season.
The Panthers opened up the contest with a 25-17 set win in which they benefited from service aces from Lexis Akeo, Rachel Fairbanks and Serena Grey and three kills or more from each of Jordan Lockwood, Kayla Lund, Chinaza Ndee and Chiamaka Nwokolo. They would win the next set by the same score, and in the final set, High Point tied it at 23-23, but Pitt then got a kill from Lockwood and sealed the win with a service ace by Leketor Member-Meneh. All told, Pitt won the set 25-23 and Ndee led the Panthers with 12 kills on the day.
The top-25 matchup with BYU on Friday night was the marquee matchup of the event, and the Cougars proved to be the only participants in the Panther Challenge capable of taking a set from the Panthers. But Pitt would still manage to come away with a 3-1 win.
Pitt would open up the matchup with a come-from-behind 25-21 set win. The Panthers fell behind 14-9 early on but got the better of the Cougars on several serves on their way back on top. Pitt would log four service aces in the set win. In the next set, BYU flipped the score on Pitt and got a 25-21 win of its own. However, it would be the only set the Cougars would win, as Pitt would surge back for 25-20 and 26-24 wins in the next two sets. And once again, right-side hitter Chinaza Ndee led the way for Pitt with 17 kills, and she got help from outside hitter Kayla Lund, who had 15.
Pitt saved its strongest performance for the Panther Challenge finale, as the team swept Bowling Green 3-0 on Saturday and did not allow the Falcons to hit the 20-point mark in any of the three sets.
The first set got off to a shaky start, as Pitt allowed Bowling Green to take an early 8-4 lead. The Panthers would chip away at the Falcons’ lead, eventually surpassing them to gain a 13-12 advantage. And after some back-and-forth play, Pitt would pull away for a win capped off by a Chinaza Ndee kill and a Bowling Green attack error. The next two sets would be less competitive, as Pitt went 5-0 to start the second set and 7-0 to start the third. Pitt would win those sets 25-17 and 25-16, and Ndee would again lead in kills, with 10.
With the dominant showing in the Panther Challenge, Pitt improved to 8-0 on the season. The Panthers also put themselves in position to move up in the national rankings, as No. 3 Nebraska fell to No. 20 Utah on Saturday.
Pitt will look to improve to 10-0 in the coming week, as it will head to Morehead, Kentucky, to face Morehead State and Marshall in the Comfort Inn-vitational. The Panthers will face Eagles on Friday at 2 p.m., before facing the Thundering Herd on Saturday at 2 p.m.